In April 2012, I visited New York with my friends and one morning I played Battle Studies by John Mayer, one of my favorite albums. I’d been listening to his albums on heavy rotation for years and to me this was the perfect soundtrack for a relaxed morning.

This is why I was surprised when one of my friends said: “Oh no Marjo, not that depressing music again”. Depressing? What was she talking about? Wasn’t this music super easy-going?

At that time, I wasn’t really listening to lyrics all that much yet, so I wasn’t aware that what might be the most remarkable component of John Mayer’s music had slipped right past me!

Now I know better and have discovered that his lyrics are layered, nostalgic, and (indeed!) raw. Perhaps the most extraordinary element is the fact that they’re simultaneously metaphorical and direct. Both simple and profound.

In preparation for John Mayer’s world tour I’ve examined the stories behind 5 of my favorite lyrics written by the singer-songwriter. I’m curious to find out if they are able to affect you the same way as they did me…

5. Daughters (Heavier Things, 2003)

One of the first songs that helped John Mayer make a name for himself internationally and which awarded him with 2 Grammy Awards is Daughters. Did you know that it originated from his frustration around an unrequited love?

In an episode of VH1 Storytellers John explains that he wrote it for a woman with daddy issues’. He loved her, but she wasn’t able to let him into her life because she was afraid of trusting men.

I know a girl
She puts the color inside of my world

But she’s just like a maze
Where all of the walls all continually change
And I’ve done all I can
To stand on the steps with my heart in my hand
Now I’m starting to see
Maybe it’s got nothing to do with me

In the Storytellers episode he highlights the meaning of this song:

“It really is the result of tracing it backwards to find out how I could possibly love this person. And the answer is: you can’t. Because someone else didn’t before you.”

In order to never have to go through this again -“If I meet one more beautiful woman with daddy issues, I swear to God, I’m just gonna go insane-, he treats this song as a call out to parents to treat their daughters well:

Fathers, be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you do

Girls become lovers who turn into mothers
So mothers, be good to your daughters too
Daughters – John Mayer

It’s dubious whether this song brought John more luck in love, considering his fair share of exes and his current status as a single man. Daughters did become an incredibly successful song, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it got people thinking.

4. Waiting On The World To Change (Continuum, 2006)

In 2006, John Mayer released Waiting On The World To Change. It was a response to the issues in the world at that time.

Me and all my friends
We’re all misunderstood
They say we stand for nothing and
There’s no way we ever could
Now we see everything that’s going wrong
With the world and those who lead it
We just feel like we don’t have the means
To rise above and beat it

For a political song, John doesn’t home in on one topic. What does surface quite clearly is his critique on world leaders, the media’s prejudice, and his stance against warfare:

Now if we had the power
To bring our neighbors home from war
They would have never missed a Christmas
No more ribbons on their door
But when you trust your television
What you get is what you got
Because when they own the information, oh
They can bend it all they want

John doesn’t just want to point out everything that, according to him, is wrong in the world; he also wants to discuss the role his generation plays in this issue:

So we keep waiting
Waiting on the world to change

We keep on waiting
Waiting on the world to change
It’s hard to beat the system
When we’re standing at a distance

So we keep waiting
Waiting on the world to change

Waiting On the World To Change – John Mayer

In an interview with the CBS Early Show He illustrates the reasoning behind the lyrics:

“It’s about a feeling of my generation and why there’s a silence right now. Is silence a sanity protective measure or is it apathy? And I think it’s probably a protective measure. You only get one heart and once it’s jaded, you never unjade it. So, I think we’re waiting for the right time to step in.”

And his time has come. Ever since 2012, John, whose father served in the Second World War, has been committed to raising awareness on the mental health of war veterans. In March this year, he founded the Heart and Armor Foundation, a foundation with which he helps fund scientific research for the health of war veterans, and through which he aims to raise awareness amongst civilians on their experience.

3. Slow Dancing In A Burning Room (Continuum, 2006)

Slow Dancing In A Burning Room was never released as a single and yet it has become one of John Mayer’s most popular songs. The singer-songwriter never discussed his inspiration for the track, but it’s quite obvious that it’s about a relationship coming to an end. He describes this intense process in what might be his most visual lyric up to this point.

It’s not a silly little moment
It’s not the storm before the calm
This is the deep and dying breath of

This love that we’ve been working on
Can’t seem to hold you like I want to
So I can feel you in my arms
Nobody’s going to come and save you
We pulled too many false alarms

We’re going down
And you can see it, too
We’re going down
And you know that we’re doomed
My dear, we’re slow dancing in a burning room

Slow Dancing In A Burning Room – John Mayer

A love sighing its last breath, experiencing an intimate, final moment together while everything surrounding the two of you burns until all that’s left are ashes.

Don’t you think this is a spot-on analogy for a break-up and the heart-breaking feeling that accompanies it? I also think this is the perfect example of how John Mayer’s lyrics are simultaneously metaphoric and direct. Wow, wow, wow!

2. Love On The Weekend (The Search For Everything, 2017)

You probably won’t expect it at this point, but not all of John Mayer’s music is heavy or nostalgic. The first single he released on his most recent album, The Search For Everything, is Love On The Weekend, an uncomplicated love song. In an interview with Rolling Stone, John explains that he got the idea for the song when he arrived at the office of his label Capitol Records, located at the foot of the hill that is home to the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles. He describes LA as a magical place and California as the perfect backdrop for love:

“There is a culture here of the lovers’ getaway, and most of my jealousy as a single man is about not being able to go to the Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur or the San Ysidro Ranch in Santa Barbara.”

In the lyrics, you are basically the third wheel on John’s romantic trip with his new lover:

It’s a Friday, we finally made it
I can’t believe I get to see your face

You’ve been working and I’ve been waiting
To pick you up and take you from this place

Love on the weekend
Love on the weekend
Like only we can
Like only we can
Love on the weekend
Love on the weekend
I’m coming up and I’m loving every minute of it

Then, the two love birds are in a car:

You be the DJ, I’ll be the driver
You put your feet up in the getaway car
I’m flying fast like a, a wanted man
I want you, baby, like you can’t understand

And just the idea of it coming to an end hurts:

I gotta leave ya, it’s gonna hurt me
My clothes are dirty and my friends are getting worried
Down there below us, under the clouds
Baby, take my hand and pull me down, down, down, down

And I’ll be dreamin’ of the next time we can go
Into another serotonin overflow
Love On The Weekend – John Mayer

John’s lover needs to take his head out of the clouds and bring him back to earth, with both feet on the ground. He will, however, soon start dreaming about the next time they’re able to get away together. Serotonin is known to be the hormone for happiness and, following the romantic getaway, John is submersed in it.

This song is less layered than the other tracks featured in this list and is less critically acclaimed than his more profound songs. Yet in my opinion, John was able to create a damn striking love song which makes the perfect soundtrack for a lover’s holiday. That’s why it deserves a spot on this list!

1. In The Blood (The Search For Everything, 2017)

In The Blood is a very personal and honest song, which is why John Mayer is reluctant to discuss the track thoroughly. In an interview with the National Public Radio he explains:

“I guess I made a deal with myself that if I was gonna go that honest on a song, I wasn’t gonna necessarily be a liability to it and color it in.”

He defines it as an ‘anthem’ for and about him and the lyrics hold a case of deep self-reflection:

[Verse 1]
How much of my mother has my mother left in me?
How much of my love will be insane to some degree?
And what about this feeling that I’m never good enough?
Will it wash out in the water, or is it always in the blood?

[Verse 2]
How much of my father am I destined to become?
Will I dim the lights inside me just to satisfy someone?
Will I let this woman kill me, or do away with jealous love?
Will it wash out in the water, or is it always in the blood?

I can feel the love I want
I can feel the love I need
But it’s never gonna come the way I am
Could I change it if I wanted?
Can I rise above the flood?
Will it wash out in the water
Or is it always in the blood?
In The Blood – John Mayer

In all likelihood, the lyrics were inspired by the saying ‘blood is thicker than water’. On the one hand this means that you can’t hide your true self, on the other that a family bond is stronger than anything else.

In the song, John wonders to what extent his life and who he is was decided on by his genes and the things his family taught him. Or is he able to influence this himself?

It’s a question of Nature vs. nurture in true John Mayer fashion.

Did you expect John Mayer’s lyrics to be so multi- layered? Leave a message in the comments – we’d like that!

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At Nolala, we definitely appreciate John Mayer’s lyrics but are you curious for lyrics explained from different artists? Check out our Top 5 for Mumford and Sons, Sam Smith, and Ed Sheeran!

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– Daughters is written by John Clayton Mayer © BMG Rights Management, Reach Music Publishing, 2003
– Waiting on the World to Change is written by John Clayton Mayer © Reach Music Publishing, BMG Rights Management, 2006
– Slow Dancing in a Burning Room is written by John Clayton Mayer © Reach Music Publishing, BMG Rights Management, 2006
– Love on the Weekend is written by John Clayton Mayer © Reach Music Publishing, BMG Rights Management, 2017
– In The Blood is written by John Mayer © Reach Music Publishing, BMG Rights Management, 2017